“D’you think you’ll ever fly?”
The question was just as sudden as only Crackle could ask it. She and Fadestar had been lying in the long grass, staring at the sky of the rare clear winter’s night. Fadestar had waved to one of the falling stars, a habit that Crackle still thought to be a little weird, but the dark-haired young elf didn’t mind.
The question came so suddenly that Fadestar tensed, before pushing herself up. Letting her elbows rest on the soft forest floor, she tilted her head to the side, where Crackle hadn’t shifted her gaze from the stars.
“What brought that up?” Fadestar inquired, wondering. Knowing her friend, there was certainly something in her head that made her want to know, but even Fadestar could never really tell what was going on inside Crackle’s mind. If Crackle wanted, Fadestar thought, she could be very mysterious. Yet, mysterious usually meant that her friend’s thoughts were brewing.
Crackle shrugged. “Nothing special. I just wondered.” She still didn’t look at her friend, but with a small smile, she chewed on a blade of grass.
Now, Fadestar narrowed her eyes. ‘Nothing special’ was something she didn’t associate with the other girl. Yet, she thought, there was no real harm in answering.
“I don’t know,” Fadestar honestly said. “I might… and I might not. Mother could, and Kestrel can, but my sister Moon never could.”
”Do you want to?” was Crackle’s next question.
With a sigh, Fadestar fell back in the long grass. “Maybe,” she slowly replied. She still had the feeling that there was something behind Crackle’s way of casually asking something, but as she couldn’t figure it out, it was best just to answer. Maybe later she’d discover why Crackle was pelting her with questions.
For Fadestar, the subject was one that called up conflicting feelings. On the one hand, there was the dream that she could accompany her sister when she was gliding through the treetops and the dark, starry sky. On the other hand, there was the realism that it might never happen and it would be just a far-away dream. It was better to focus on the things she could do, than the things she could not.
“You can’t really miss what you haven’t experienced, right?” Fadestar said. “Flying with my sister isn’t the same as using the magic on my own. I don’t miss flying because I can’t. I… I sometimes like to dream about it, but I know it is no certain fact that I ever will. So instead, I will focus on the things I can do, and things I can improve.”
Not moving, Fadestar said: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Father says that love is like flying. I wonder — if you can fly, maybe you don’t need a lovemate. I know Kestrel has Snowfall and True Edge now but she was alone for a very long time.”
That was a twist that Fadestar hadn’t expected, but she felt the need to defend her sister. “She wasn’t alone because she could fly!”
“No… I guess not.” The quick retreat wasn’t very like Crackle, either. The redhead was frowning deeply. She twisted a little and lay on her side, bracing her head on her arm. “I guess Father wouldn’t know. But maybe when you can fly, love and joining don’t feel as important, since you have something better.”
Fadestar watched her gaze shift to the ground, looking for patterns in the grass. She thought that Crackle wasn’t done: the older girl never lost the tendency to let her thoughts run like water. And right as rain, after a moment: “Love and joining aren’t the same, anyhow.”
“I think flying would be more like love,” the younger girl answered wistfully, and heard Crackle’s approving hum.
Another falling star streaked overhead: there were a lot of them tonight. Fadestar waved to it a bit distractedly, a new thought occurring to her. “My mother could fly, and she loved my father very much.”
The older girl contemplated that for a moment, then gave a sombre nod of approval. She’s so quiet tonight, Fadestar thought. It was getting beyond suspicious and into unnerving.
She decided to change tactics. “I’ll tell you everything. If I ever fly, I mean, I’ll share it with you in sending. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Crackle’s eyes brightened. Fadestar smiled. Sometimes the other girl was actually rather easy to predict. Then the young storyteller grinned. “What about if you’re ever in love? Would you share that?”
Unprepared, Fadestar flushed and looked away, though she couldn’t help but smile a little bit. Maybe it was time she shared. Crackle would probably tease her, but it would feel good to not be alone with her secret anymore, and she felt more comfortable sharing it with the other girl than with Newt or even with her sister. “I already know what that feels like,” she whispered.
Crackle shoved herself up on one elbow, stunned. She had such a look on her face that if Fadestar hadn’t been so embarrassed from telling her secret, she would have burst out laughing. “Who?” the young storyteller demanded. “Is it Newt? I just know it’s Newt! How didn’t I guess?!”
Somewhat taken aback by Crackle’s response, Fadestar turned even redder. She had imagined that Crackle’s curiosity would be woken up, but right now it seemed that she nearly accused her of having a crush on Newt.
”No!” Fadestar said, half in shock. “No, it’s not Newt! He’s my friend!” As soon as she said it, she realized it hardly made any sense, but she frantically shook her head. It felt as if Crackle had pushed her into a corner and the only way out was to tell her who.
Crackle’s face now showed disbelief. “Who else can it be? He’s the one you spend the most time with!” The frown didn’t disappear from her face. “It must be him,” she continued, “Or, is it Dreamflight? She’s been denning with you!”
“No,” Fadestar said again, wondering how her friend imagined her and Dreamflight together. “Dreamflight weaves with me, and she didn’t want to be alone! But she has her own corner in my den!” The young weaver could hardly defend herself because Crackle went on.
“If it’s not Newt, and not Dreamflight, it must be —“
”It’s Pathmark,” Fadestar blurted out to be ahead of her, but soon after her confession her eyes grew wide and she covered her mouth with her hands. Crackle had abruptly stopped talking, and her jaw had dropped.
"He's sweet," Fadestar whispered, almost inaudibly.
Her words didn't even seem to tickle the flabbergasted Crackle's ears. "Pathmark? But he's — he's —" Fadestar watched her flail, a little amused, knowing that Crackle was most likely casting for a polite way to tell her friend that she had a horribly unadventurous taste in crushes. What came out eventually was unplanned. "He's my sister's lovemate!"
"I know!" The younger girl flinched, feeling even more defensive though she wasn't sure how that was possible. The confession was not turning out as she expected it to. Crackle wasn't supposed to find out who her crush was! And even if she did, she wasn't supposed to be so shocked about it. She was only supposed to tease. "I don't think he'll be my lovemate... not really. But I can't help how I feel!"
Crackle opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again in a rather undignified way. That was one truth that she could say nothing to. Though she was usually happy to talk as though she was an expert on all things known to elf-kind, love was a more amorphous subject, slippery as a fish. Cubhood theories were all good and well, but you couldn't argue with experience.
For once, Fadestar had the experience, and Crackle did not.
She fell silent, staring contemplatively up at the sky. Despite everything, Fadestar suddenly felt sorry for her for reasons that she could not accurately define. She couldn't take back what she said, though, and wouldn't anyway, so she also stayed silent, stealing the occasional glance at Crackle.
Still, she needed to make something sure, first. “You’re not going to tell Pathmark, are you? Or your sister?” Crackle didn’t answer at first, and didn’t look at her which made Fadestar’s feeling of guilt transform to one of wariness “Well, are you?” she asked insistent, with a hint of anxiety in her voice.
Finally, Crackle gave a solemn shake of the head. “I won’t,” she slowly said, in a tone that was strict and serious even for her, even given the subject. There was something else behind her words again, Fadestar thought, but she still couldn’t put a finger on it. She’d have to be satisfied with the seemingly reluctant promise, and it did relieve her somewhat.
“I won’t either. Ever,” the younger girl promised. She surely hoped she could hold that promise, because every time Pathmark looked at her, she blushed, but she was not going to tell Crackle those details when the redhead was already upset by the previous revelation. Fadestar moved closer to Crackle for some body warmth and support. It hadn’t really felt like a fight, but the other girl’s behaviour had been so unpredictable and weird, that Fadestar wanted to assure herself that everything was all right. Normally, Fadestar wasn’t the most physical youngster, but she wanted to comfort Crackle if she was feeling bad.
An oddly motionless minute passed, and then Crackle sighed and wrapped her arm around Fadestar in an automatic response. Both girls were drowned in their own thoughts for a while.
Then, Fadestar broke the silence. “I dream of flying sometimes,” she softly said. “Sometimes it feels so real. I can share that with you.” She kept one eye on Crackle to test her response.
“I dream of flying too,” Crackle murmured after a moment. “But I’m glad your dreams might be real someday. I really, really am.” Her hand had tangled a little in Fadestar’s long dark hair, and she rubbed the back of her neck in a soothing motion, which felt nice. Then her voice turned teasing, until it sounded practically like her normal self. “And then you’ll forget all about your crush!”
Suddenly relieved once more, Fadestar couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I hope I don’t. If I have to choose between flying and being in love… I think I’d rather be in love.”
“You would?” Crackle sounded a bit unsure, but then she was nodding vigorously. “Well, that makes sense. Maybe you’ll fly and maybe you won’t, but you’ll definitely have a lovemate someday.”
Fadestar blushed again. “Definitely?”
It was a very Crackle-like thing to say, in that oh-so-serious voice, too. “I hope so,” Fadestar whispered, though she was smiling widely. Maybe she had worried too soon about her friend’s state of mind.
Another star fell, and she waved to it, thoughtful. Mysterious or not, it was good to have Crackle there. She might tease, but she would still keep the secret, and maybe she would share the secret of what made her so troubled, too…
“And you’ll have to be a strong flyer,” Crackle spoke up, as though the subject had never changed, “since you’ll be giving me rides all the time.”
Fadestar opened her mouth, but paused before speaking and decided not to push. She could wait. If it was important, her friend would share. She was sure of that. Crackle never kept quiet for long.
“Only if you promise not to squirm,” she answered instead, and was rewarded with Crackle’s full-throated laugh. For the moment, the ripples have been smoothed. The sky was clear.